Today is Super Tuesday, the day on which the most states hold their presidential primary elections. Our fellow Americans in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, and California will put their mark on the 2020 presidential election, which thus far has been filled with a packed Democratic field and the usual disproportionate attention paid to early primaries and caucuses. While today’s results won’t totally answer all questions about this fall’s general election, it’s our weightiest data point thus far.
Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post will do yeomen’s work in updating the public on the horse race particulars, covering exit polls and delegates and crunching data to render it in appealing infographics. The fine folks digital outlets like Five-Thirty Eight and Politico will do likewise. This is invaluable service to our democracy, but it’s a distinctly quantitive in nature. But journalism and presidential politics doesn’t only operate in the quantitative realm; I’ve already sung the virtue of longform journalism’s ability to accurately capture candidates in this newsletter.
In that spirit, I wanted to round up a collection of profiles and articles about the Democratic candidates. There’s been some recent changes to the overall lineup with Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropping out, so this list will focus on the biggest names still in the race:
They’re all running to go head-to-head with President Trump in November. The president’s appeal continues to mystify me. Not across the board, as I have no real trouble understanding that there are politically like-minded people out there, though I was surprised back in 2016 to learn that many of them considered themselves Republicans. But I suppose that was naive of me. Having spent my entire life in the South, it shouldn’t be a surprise just how deeply social issues and socially conservative stances on wedge issues carried a great weight with voters.
But forever leading that charge during my lifetime has been the contingent known as evangelical voters. This group’s overwhelming support of President Trump is the one that confuses me most. Many of the biggest names in the movement that have supported President Trump make essentially an “ends justify the means” argument — President Trump is a willing and happy warrior for the issues that evangelicals care about. I cannot argue with that logic, but what’s strike to me is its departure from the church I grew up in, where the means mattered a great deal.
In a great example of “I wish I had written that,” Alex Morris wrote an amazing piece for Rolling Stone where she grapples with that seemingly simple question: “Why does the Christian Right worship Donald Trump?” She chronicles President Trump’s naked appeal to the hot-button issues they care about. She lists the legislative accomplishments of the administration. She zooms out and talks about the history of the evangelical movement in America. But the piece’s strength is Morris’s ability to write about the conundrum from within its walls, as a religious person who grew up in the evangelical church and whose family still resides there. She bravely talks to her family about the possibility that Christian faith is not a monolith, that its very tenets could lead her to oppose President Trump instead of embrace him, and the dialogue between her and her mother is a peek into Thanksgiving Dinner-like conversations happening all over the country.
“Finally, my aunt puts her hand on my knee. Her eyes are tender and her voice soft and trembling with emotion. ‘I just want them to know the truth.’ And it’s moments like this that shut the conversation down because I believe her. I believe — with faith and certainty — that this is what motivates her, politically and otherwise. ‘All we can do is love them,’ she’d told me. In her mind, this was not about the history of evangelicalism or the Republican Party or American exceptionalism or Christian nationalism or how we got here. This was about her view of love — a tough love that would offer America salvation.”
Read it here:
Compounding my confusion is the way President Trump’s ability to warp and upend conventional wisdom in politics has carried over into the Southern Baptist Convention. Not fully two weeks ago, The Week summarized a spat of SBC in-fighting that seems directly related to President Trump. Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission whose denominational bona fides are beyond question, is the subject of an SBC task force investigation into his leadership of the commission based on “ongoing concerns” from “state leadership and other pastors across the country.” It seems that Russell’s cardinal sin is to openly question whether President Trump represents evangelical Christian values.
Read it here:
Russell has remained consistent to his understanding of the Bible and the values of the SBC. Before President Trump was elected, Russell questioned his fitness for the office and asked evangelicals to consider their motives. He did not mince words:
“Most illogical is his support from evangelicals and other social conservatives. To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe.”
“We should not demand to see the long-form certificate for Mr. Trump’s second birth. We should, though, ask about his personal character and fitness for office. His personal morality is clear, not because of tabloid exposés but because of his own boasts.”
Read it here:
But it’s only fair to remind evangelical voters that it’s not actually heretical to question President Trump. In The New Yorker, Pastor Timothy Keller, talked about the difference between “big-E Evangelicalism” and “little-e evangelicalism.” Big-E Evangelicalism is now more a political designation than a religious one, and Keller is not a fan:
“Evangelical” used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with “hypocrite.”
Growing up, the label of “hypocrite” was something against which Christians had to guard; pastors used it from the pulpit to remind the congregation that non-believers were watching them, comparing their actions, and Christians must not just “talk the talk” but also must “walk the walk.”
Consider the recent editorial from Christianity Today, which called for President Trump’s removal from office during the impeachment proceedings. The magazine, founded by Rev. Billy Graham, quoted itself from 1998, when commenting on President Clinton’s impeachment:
“The President’s failure to tell the truth—even when cornered—rips at the fabric of the nation. This is not a private affair. For above all, social intercourse is built on a presumption of trust: trust that the milk your grocer sells you is wholesome and pure; trust that the money you put in your bank can be taken out of the bank; trust that your babysitter, firefighters, clergy, and ambulance drivers will all do their best. And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law.”
Read it here:
Christianity Today deserves evangelical praise for its consistency. But it didn’t get it. Which begs the question: Whose views have really changed — the Russells and Christianity Todays of the world or those Big-E Evangelicals?
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